For the last three days before South Lake Tahoe, I can’t remember how many times I heard “only five more miles of snow.” Every time they were very wrong.
Now, we’re under 3,000 feet and I feel pretty confident the worst is behind us. The past few days have been snow-free for the most part, and the miles have been flying by.
I was worried that once the snow was gone that I’d be bored just walking. But I’ve been mostly going through forest, and I’m having a great time. It’s nice pushing out bigger mile days, and soon we’ll be halfway done with the trail.
Day 67: 1,118.6
We get a ride to the trail with one of our hiking partners. We haven’t seen him in three weeks, so it’s nice to be reunited. With a quick stop at McDonald’s we’re on our way.
The day starts by entering Desolation Wilderness. The name is fitting, as it feels pretty desolate. We climb to the top of Dicks Pass through slushy snow, and boot ski (slide on your feet) almost the whole way down.
We pass by countless lakes, and the views are stunning for most of the day. We catch up with our partner, and the show evolves to more than just the Pavlov and Squirtle show.
Toward the end of the day the trail clears up, and I’m hiking on solid ground. The last six miles go by fast, and after a beer and hot chocolate I’m in my tent, ready for an early morning.
Day 68: 1,118.6-1,146.6
We wake at 4:30, a late start after the Sierra. We hope the snow-free trail will continue as we start the day, but those are dashed pretty quickly.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate snow. Usually, I love it. But I’ve been trying to hike in it for almost a month now and I’m ready for it to be gone. Between route finding, sliding around, and postholing, it’s become a nightmare.
We make the most of it, though, glissading when we can and sliding through switchbacks when it makes sense. After the first 1,000-foot climb of the day, we climb up a ridge where we stay for a few miles.
The flowers are blooming up here, and I hike mostly with my Microspikes on. We get to a ski lift (which makes sense due to all the snow) and break for lunch. We have a view of Lake Tahoe, and it’s wonderful.
We see some hikers we haven’t seen in a couple hundred miles and catch up a bit. It’s nice to see people out here, as there haven’t been very many lately.
In the afternoon we hike over two more big hills, both snowy on the back side. We camp just past Tinker Knob, on a ridge over 8,000 feet. It’s beautiful and windy, but the trees provide plenty of shelter.
I eat a ton of food, since I brought too much for the four days we’ll be out here. I crawl into my sleeping quilt after the 28-mile day, ready for a good night’s sleep.
Day 69: 1,146.6-1,174.3
I’m crawling down the side of hill number who knows what when I feel my feet slip from under me. I immediately brace myself for the hard boulder my butt is about to collide with, and try to slow the fall with my arms.
I make contact with the hard surface, bounce, hit it again, and slide till I’m sitting on the ground. I do a body check, maybe bruised but otherwise OK. I fight tears of frustration, and sit for a second.
This is a low. I’ve had plenty the past couple of weeks, but today I’m tired and the snowy descents are getting to me. I sigh, pick myself, and force my sore body to catch up with the others.
Overall, it was a good day. We woke up with the sun, and there was plenty of snow-free trail. We shared plenty of laughs and sang a number of off-key songs. The highs are high and the lows are low. And much like the hills we climb, we see the highs and lows every day.
Tonight, we camp on another ridge. We share some hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps. I’m currently waiting for the sun to set, and life is good.
Day 70: 1,174.3-1,196.6
It’s town day. We wake up slowly on top of the world, letting the sun rise before we hit the trail. It’s a good one, and with only 21 miles to Sierra City it’s shaping up to be a light day.
It’s mostly downhill and snow-free, so we fly through the forest at over three miles per hour. A few hours in, a fellow hiker alerts us that the post office closes at 2. We want to ship things home, and decide to skip lunch to make it in time.
We start running. Well, Pavlov starts running and Woody and I try to keep up for a mile or so. We give up, as my legs haven’t tasted those speeds in over a month. I don’t want an injury.
We still make good time, averaging over three miles per hour the rest of the way. Woody and I make it to the road well behind Pavlov, but with plenty of time to spare. It’s another 1.5-mile road walk to the post office, so we walk and stick out our thumbs.
Cars drive by but none are willing to pick up two smelly homeless people. We walk the extra miles and hit up the post office. Pavlov was already there, as she had gotten a hitch. In the post office, I send home my pants, shoes, and base layer. The snow should be mostly gone now, and the sandals are back.
At the counter, I almost pass out. My vision goes blurry and there’s ringing in my ears. I sit on the floor before I fall, and eat a granola bar. I realize how little I’ve eaten today.
The food helps, so I pay the postage and head next door to the store. We all do our meager resupply, and head over to the restaurant also next door for taco Tuesday.
I eat plenty of tacos, drink plenty of beer, and pack out even more. We do the road walk back to trail, laughing with another group of three. We find a spot a mile up trail, and fall asleep to fireflies, harmonicas, and beer.
Day 71: 1,196.6-1,227.1
We wake in the morning slightly hungover. It’s not bad, but with a goal of hiking 30 miles it means it’s going to be a long day.
I trudge up the first big climb, sipping on my Dr. Pepper I carried out from Sierra City. I feel tired and not ready to hike, but my legs feel good.
Eventually we reach the top. I worry about snow on the other side, but luckily there’s only a little bit on the side of the trail so far.
We go by plenty of lakes today, but we never get close enough to jump in. It feels like Northern California, finally. Green trees and hot sun.
We stop for lunch by the side of a dirt road. Pavlov has lost her camp shoe, and it’s hot and we’re thirsty. Luckily, there’s a small bit of snowmelt forming a small creek. We fill our bottles here, and procrastinate the coming miles as long as we can.
We decide to try for the remaining 14 miles, and start hiking. Immediately we hit snow. My morale drops to zero and I shut off my brain. I know the snow will be over soon.
With four miles to camp we leave the snow. Some southbounders tell us we’re basically out of it, but I don’t believe them. We decide the next spot that looks campable will be home for the night; forget the 30 miles.
We hike, but there are no spots. We end up doing all 30 miles and find Condundrum and crew sitting by a fire. We join them, scarf down our food, and crawl into our cowboy camps. We hear there’s a bear here, but I’m sure it’s nonsense.
Day 72: 1,227.1-1,263.5
Crash. A stick breaks from the weight of some large animal nearby. I don’t wake up, but the two next to me do. The word bear is thrown around, and eventually I wake up to headlamps scouring the landscape.
We do this for about five minutes, until we no longer hear the creature. I fall back to sleep, quicker than I would have thought. So maybe there was a bear here after all.
We wake slightly earlier than usual, we hope to do a 36-mile day to make it to Bucks Lake. There’s a restaurant there, and after the meager resupply in Sierra City we want some good supplemental food.
It’s downhill all morning, and the miles go quick. We drop below 3,000 feet, and it’s hot. I jump in a creek near the bottom, washing off the days of dust and poison oak.
The end of the day is a huge climb, and when we eventually get to the top we are rewarded with a view. We stay at Bucks Lake, with a trail angel who feeds us and drives us to resupply.
We sleep on her porch after a bonfire, full of gratitude and wonder from a long day of hiking. In a few days, I’ll be getting off trail to go on a fishing trip with some family. Life is good.
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